The Fourth Door: Change Complements Form




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One of my favorite pastimes is creating tarot decks. Every so often, I get an inspiration about a tarot deck concept, plan out some of the details, and start making cards. Not that I manage to finish any of these decks, mind you. I can't seem to get through 78 cards before being distracted by a new inspired deck concept, or some other project that draws my attention.

I'm obviously not the only person who gets inspired by the idea of making a tarot deck: there are hundreds of different decks in print at any given time, and there are surely many thousands if one includes self-published and unpublished decks as well.

Although tarot is a wonderful divination tool and includes many fascinating and evocative images, that is not really enough to explain why I keep getting new deck concepts and become enthused about executing them. For me, a big part of the fascination of the tarot is that it is a system, but a system whose pattern is somewhat fluid. In the minor arcana, there are four suits and fourteen ranks, much like one finds in ordinary playing cards. So when I think about a card like the three of cups, I not only think of that particular card and the meanings I associate with it, but I also think of threes (the threes in the other suits of the tarot, and also threes in a more general sense - all the triplets and threefold sets in the natural and human world), and I also think of cups (all the cups cards of the tarots, and real cups as well, and things that go with cups, like water, wine, urns, bowls . . .). The connections in the major arcana are less direct, but perhaps even more interesting: an Emperor and Empress; a Priest and Priestess; a Star, Moon, and Sun; three of the four cardinal virtues (Justice, Strength, and Temperance - Prudence, the fourth, is strangely absent); and so on.

When I get inspired by a tarot concept, I don't just think of a card or two and then wonder what to do about the rest. I get excited about the system, about the interconnections and relationships. I ask questions like, "What will the Knights be like?" or "What are swords about in this deck?" Those kind of questions stimulate my creativity about the particular cards, in a way that just sitting down to make a picture of a knight with a sword does not.

It may seem ironic, but structure can be the friend of creativity and novelty, rather than its adversary.

This is a profound principle for me, the complementary relationship between change and form. Some people see the relationship simply as one of conflict: change breaks old form, forms restrict change. But I see something much deeper than that at work. Forms and structures do not just appear out of nothingness, they are the legacy of growth and change that has gone before. Each chamber of a sea shell was once a new addition, created by the need to grow beyond the limits of the chamber before. This is true of human institutions as well. Every law and custom was once a novelty: some creative solution to a problem, which eventually became habitual, codified, and fossilized.

Conversely, it is structure that enables change. If there were no pattern, change would be meaningless, just part of a random flux without direction or intention. The stable structure of language and its conventions enables the expression of new ideas; the precise rules of logic and engineering on which my computer runs helps me to write and paint; the recurring pattern of the seasons allows new life to erupt in spring. And, as Robert Frost remarked, good fences make good neighbors.

Many people seem especially devoted to either structure or change, accepting the other only grudgingly, or perhaps rejecting it altogether. In the Myers-Briggs personality typing system, there is the dichotomy of perception and judging. People who favor perception are spontaneous, carefree, and all about new experiences. They go on trips without making any plans, their personal space is randomly strewn with objects of interest, and they dislike having to be anywhere on time. People who favor judging are exceedingly organized, become extremely stressed when something unexpected happens, and take comfort in rules. The one type has an unquenchable thirst for novelty, the other an intense attachment to order.

Either polarity is limiting, it seems to me. An abhorrence of structure makes it difficult for anyone to master a system or skill. So however creative your daydreams may be, you lack the tools to manifest the change you seek. On the other hand, fear of change is crippling. One goes through the motions of something repeated a thousand times before, not allowing anything new to grow for fear of breaking the pattern.

Ideally, form and change dance together like inhaling and exhaling, each making the other possible, together creating something neither can produce on its own: true growth.

Page Two: Stepping through the Door

Seven Doors is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2008 Tom Waters